Gangs are a problem in most major cities and in Los Angeles, Larry Sanders, 58, has spent most of his adult life trying to turn youth away from the lure of gangs. He’s a gang interventionist contracted by the city of Los Angeles. But not long ago he was stopped on the street by the LAPD’s gang task force where he works and added to the city’s gang database as a gang member — which he is not.
The South Los Angeles-based Sanders was with a group of friends on the afternoon of April 29, when police from the city’s gang task force approached them. The officers questioned the men as to whether they were on parole or probation. None of them were. Without explanation, the officers instructed the men to lift their shirts and display any tattoos they had.
After the officers checked IDs, they left.
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“Weeks later, he received a letter saying he had ‘met the minimum criteria’ to be designated a gang member or associate. The notice had a checklist justifying Sanders’ inclusion with three neatly placed ‘X’s claiming he was ‘associating with documented gang members,’ ‘frequenting gang areas’ and had been ‘arrested for offenses consistent with gang activity,’” NBC News reported.
Sanders has never been part of a gang. And in fact, he has been an entertainer earlier in life.
“Sanders, who also goes by the name L.V., short for Large Variety, gained notoriety in 1995 for his vocals in Coolio’s Grammy-winning hit ‘Gangsta’s Paradise.’ He still makes solo records and performs with South Central Cartel, a rap group whose music videos often invoke images and lyrics associated with gangs and gang violence,” NBC News reported.
Sanders applied in June to be removed from the database, but is still waiting for word on his case.
Nationwide, gang databases are being called into question by justice reform advocates who alleged the lists are an example police overreach that can often lead to civil rights violations and that these lists disproportionately affects underprivileged communities of color.
California was the first state to create a computerized gang database in 1987 and is now reviewing its regulations.
“Now, there are at least 339 gang databases nationwide, according to the most recent Bureau of Justice statistics. Most are run independent of each other and without federal oversight,” NBC News reported.
Over the years there have been major concerns about such databases. In the early 1990s the “Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office released a report saying nearly half of all Black youths in the city were in it. The news sparked outcry from critics who said it was evidence of systematic police profiling,” NBC News reported.
The database is still plagued with errors and inaccuracies, such as listing children under a year old.
“The California Department of Justice recently proposed new regulations, which would narrow the criteria used to label someone as a gang member or associate. If approved, the rules would take effect Jan. 1,” NBC News reported.